Popular proverbs have several examples of how music can have a positive impact on people, and science has analyzed this influence many times. However, recent work by Anglo-Saxon researchers explores its use to relieve chronic pain.
The studypublished in the journal PLOS ONEconcludes that people who believe they are in control of the track they are listening to experience less distress than those who are imposed on a certain song.
If a song we like sounds, our neural reward system is stimulated and motivates us to keep listening, which can be important in mitigating pain.
Claire Howlin, QMUL
“People’s preferences are the critical aspect of musical engagement to promote pain relief. If a song we like plays, our neural reward system is stimulated and motivates us to keep listening, which can be important in mitigating ailments,” he told SINC. Claire Howlinfrom Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) and first author of the study.
Another neural area linked to music for pain relief is the network in default modewhich arises when we refocus attention from external stimuli to more internal stimuli, such as memories or reflexes, making the discomfort less intense.
Lyric and Rhythm for Chronic Pain
According to the authors, listening to music helps relieve discomfort, especially chronic diseases, the effects of which persist for more than twelve weeks. It is unclear whether these benefits occur in acute (less prolonged) conditions, as there is no clear information on the underlying mechanisms that trigger these benefits.
At the same time, essential musical properties, such as tempo, energy or song complexity, seem to have a minor role when it comes to generating more or less relief. What matters is to feel capable of decide what what we hearbecause listeners pay more attention and care if they feel they have that control.
To ease the pain, it is important to feel able to decide what is heard, because listeners pay more attention and care if they feel they have this control.
“People find benefits in various types of music (metal, techno, classical, etc.) depending on their preferences. Beyond this aspect, they also take into account the intensity of their pain and the type of activity they would like to do, such as exercising or going to sleep, for example,” says Howlin.
Different musical genres produce different effects on those who listen to them depending on their tastes. /Pixabay
The keys: complexity and decision-making
To arrive at these results, Howlin and his colleagues asked 286 adults with acute pain to rate their discomfort before and after randomly listening to a piece of music with two versionsone more complex and one simpler. Moreover, some of them were led to believe that they had some control over the musical qualities of the two themes.
People who felt they were in control of what they heard and were more actively involved experienced greater relief from the intensity of their pain than others
Thus, they were able to confirm that people who felt they were in control of what they heard and were more actively involved experienced greater relief in the intensity of their pain than participants who did not have this impression. At the same time, they ruled out the complexity of the subject as an element to be taken into account in the quantification of relief.
Current therapeutic limitations and future research
“A key limitation of chronic pain is that certain neural damage can cause sharp pain when listening to music. Therefore, people who suffer from it do not benefit from it,” says Howlin.
We still don’t know how often or for how long people should listen to music to get the most benefit from it.
Claire Howlin, QMUL
In the future, the relationship between music choice and pain relief could be explored further, as well as the strategies to strengthen this relationship.
“We still don’t know when is the optimal time to listen to music. We don’t know how often or for how long people should listen to it to get its benefits, or whether different schedules should be used depending on the individuals affected or the types of discomfort,” says the researcher.
Howlin C, Stapleton A, Rooney B (2022) Eliminate pain: agency and active engagement predict decreased pain intensity after listening to music. PLoS ONE 17(8): e0271329. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0271329
Rights: Creative Commons.